The debate about household headship

Type Journal Article - Social Dynamics
Title The debate about household headship
Volume 29
Issue 2
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2003
Page numbers 48-72
Abstract In this paper, written in 1997 but not previously published, Budlender queries the use of the term and concept of ?household head? in censuses and surveys. The term is used to measure very different concepts, and can be operationalised in a wide range of ways. Researchers have begun to examine the term critically in part because of a growing concern with gender inequalities in Southern Africa and elsewhere. The paper reviews whether and how ?household heads? are identified in censuses in the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Britain, as well as in South Africa. The standard arguments for identifying a household head include its value in classifying households and in identifying relationships between household members. But these beg questions about what constitutes a ?household?. Budlender concludes that household headship should not be defined in terms of any one criterion, such as ownership of the housing unit, primary income-earning, gender, age or primary decision-making. Instead, all of these dimensions should be explored through questions in censuses or surveys, to allow for a fuller analysis of the variety of household and family forms.

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